The big one of the meet is finally upon the Great Race Place. The Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby is the local prep for the Kentucky Derby next month. Such past horses as Sunday Silence, Point Given, A.P. Indy and Affirmed have won this race on their way to later greatness. The last horse to win a Triple Crown race after running in the race is dual champion Lookin at Lucky, who finished 3rd in 2010, then went on the win the Preakness. The last horse to run in the Santa Anita Derby and win the Kentucky Derby was Giacomo in 2005, who was 4th in Arcadia before being first in Louisville. It has been 23 years since a horse has won the Santa Anita Derby and gone on to wear the roses, all the way back in 1989 when Sunday Silence pulled the double. That drought is the longest among ANY of the major preps, and the reason this blog calls the search for the Santa Anita Derby winner the "Drought Report". This year's group of ten runners stretch from a grade 1 winner to a horse with just one start.
The favorite is the multiple graded stakes winner Creative Cause. The winner of the last prep for today's race, the San Felipe, he has been on top of the local division for many months. He built off his 3rd in the San Vicente Stakes to win that race. His works since that race have shown plenty of life and that he has plenty of energy in the tank. His pedigree does not suggests that the nine furlongs of the race will be a problem at all. The only member of the field who is guaranteed a spot in the gate come the first Saturday of May due to his significant graded stakes earnings, so that must be taken into account on whether he will be ridden all out for the win. This idea is bolstered by the fact that his trainer Mike Harrington decided to take the blinkers off of him for the first time in his career. Better to experiment now rather than in the biggest race of the year. With the blinker removal, will Creative Cause be further back than normal off the pace.
I'll Have Another shocked the world when he rocked the field in a stylish win in the Robert B. Lewis at 43-1 two months ago. His connections decided that he needed rest to combat the big effort, pointing to this race since the win. He has several solid works, including a dazzling workout in between races on Santa Anita Handicap day. His trainer Doug O'Neill is high on his charge as O'Neill looks for his first win ever in the race. His pedigree suggests that the extra distance will not be a hint of a problem, as his family is filled with stamina-filled types. He needs a decent chunk of graded stakes earnings to earn a spot in the Kentucky Derby gate with only $151k in the kitty so far. A first or second would guarantee a trip, but a 3rd place finish ($90k) will lead to a few sleepless nights from worrying.
Bob Baffert fires three bullets in an attempt to add to his record 6 wins in this race with Liaison, Paynter and Blueskiesnrainbows. Liasion is the only one of the three to have any graded stakes earnings whatsoever, and he has enough to have already secured a spot in the gate next month. He has slowly been coming along this year, rebounding from a poor effort (before he fell) in the Lewis with a decent 4th in San Felipe. He seems to have maybe not progressed from his stellar 2yo efforts, but he will get the chance to change that perception. Paynter has but one flashy start at five and half furlongs 7 weeks ago. He worked mostly across town (usually not a good sign) since the race. This feels like "too much, too soon" for a colt who looks like he has a bright future. The way he acted up while schooling this week leads one to believe he would appreciate the time to grow up mentally. Blueskiesnrainbows comes off a drubbing two months ago in an allowance race won by his stablemate Fed Biz. He appears to be in the race as a pace presence.
The others are Longview Drive ( 3rd in the Sham, lacks a real running style); Senor Rain (distance limitations, pace presence); Midnight Transfer (3rd in San Felipe, working well but has physical make-up of a sprinter/miler) and Brother Francis (Still a maiden, but has over $120k in graded earnings).
This blog thinks that Blueskiesnrainbows and Senor Rain duel on the front end, I'll Have Another earns another great trip and kicks clear turning for home. Creative Cause ends up second, with Liaison and Midnight Transfer fighting for third.
This figures to be a good race, and whomever ends up winning will carry the mantle of the "Drought Breaker" to Kentucky to end the near quarter-century drought. Good luck folks.